Estrin, Nightcats rock Redwood City blues fest 

click to enlarge Rick Estrin
  • Rick Estrin & The Nightcats headline the ninth annual Redwood City PAL Blues, ARTS & BBQ Festival.
Award-winning harmonica player Rick Estrin and his cohorts The Nightcats band use their music as a telepathic link to connect with their fans.

“We really enjoy each other, we all get along and it makes a difference. There’s a deeper thing going on and people can tell that,” says Estrin, who headlines the ninth Redwood City PAL Blues, ARTS & BBQ Festival at 5 p.m. Saturday in Courthouse Square.

The Nightcats, playing from their latest album “You Asked for It ... Live!” — which covers some 30 years of Estrin’s material — are among eight bands performing at the two-day festival.

Festival coordinator George Schoenstein established the festival as fundraiser for Redwood City’s Police Activities League’s after-school program, and as a means to build a strong blues scene in the Bay Area.

“I’m a blues fan myself, and I am a blues musician, and there weren’t a lot of opportunities for blues musicians to play,” says Schoenstein, a rhythm guitarist. In 2006, there were few venues for live blues, and other festivals — except for the Hayward Russell City Blues Festival — are now gone.

Schoenstein personally selected Rick Estrin & The Nightcats to appear this year — their first time at the event — calling them excellent entertainers as well as great musicians.

When Estrin was 12, his sister gave him his first record, Ray Charles’ “The Genius Sings The Blues.”

“I just felt like he was expressing my feelings; it sounds crazy because I was just a kid,” says Estrin.

At 15, he picked up his first harmonica. At 18, he performed in black clubs around San Francisco, where he worked five nights a week with guitarist Travis Phillips. Both were in a band fronted by vocalist Fillmore Slim (also featured in the documentary “American Pimp”).

After being introduced to mentor Rodger Collins, he moved to Chicago, a blues town where he soaked in everything he could, surrounding himself by artists like Johnny Young, Eddie Taylor, Sam Lay and Muddy Waters.

He moved back to the Bay Area, met guitarist Charlie Baty and joined Little Charlie & The Nightcats in 1976, leading the band, writing lyrics and playing harmonica. With Baty’s retirement in 2008, the group was renamed Rick Estrin & The Nightcats. The current lineup includes Estrin, lead guitarist Kid Andersen, bassist Lorenzo Farrell and drummer J. Hansen.

In addition to music, this weekend’s festival features barbecue, an art show and sale, a kids arcade and a raffle with a grand-prize electric guitar.


Redwood City PAL Blues, ARTS and BBQ Festival

Where: Courthouse Square, 2200 Broadway, Redwood City

When: 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday

Tickets: Free

Contact: (650) 556-1650,

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Jhanelle Rivera

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